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On integrity

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --

The Air Force places integrity first, because it is, without question, the most important of our core values. In its purest form, personal integrity is doing the right thing, because it is the right thing to do. Integrity serves as our moral compass, the basis for the trust imperative to military service. Without this foundational principle, nothing else we do really matters.

There is, however, another aspect of integrity worthy of our attention. Consider the nearly 10,800-foot span of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Since 1951, this bridge has stood up against intense heat, strong winds, driving rain and heavy snow to allow millions of pounds of commerce to cross the Delaware River every day. It continues to stand, because the individual components that make up the bridge support each other to provide strength. Each component is integral to the overall design and function; each can be relied upon. Working together, the components provide the structural integrity necessary for the bridge to operate.

Postcard art from the Tichnor Brothers Collection portrays the Delaware Memorial Bridge. (Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library)

Structural integrity is the ability of an item to hold together under a load, including its own weight, without breaking or deforming. A suspension bridge, such as the Delaware Memorial Bridge, includes anchorages, piers, towers and suspenders. Each component of the bridge is critical to its success. It takes all of the parts, acting as a whole, for the bridge to stand. Not only must they work together to maintain its form, but they must also be strong enough to stand up to the weight of their mission.

But structural integrity is more than just a case for good design; maintaining the integrity of a structure takes effort. Engineers conduct periodic inspections of individual components, and crews provide maintenance to ensure reliable performance. If any part of the bridge were to become weak and fail, the entire structure would collapse.

Our military was designed with this sense of structural integrity in mind. Our force is made up of hundreds of components, each as important as the next. These force components act upon each other in ways that not only keep us whole but also enable us to execute our mission. Sound structural integrity of our force is imperative if we are to hold together under a heavy load. If any one of our critical components falter, we will not only fail in our mission but crumble under our own weight.

These two aspects of integrity, personal and structural, work in concert with one another. Without personal integrity, you cannot be relied upon, weakening the overall structure of our force. Without structural integrity, you lack the protection to do the right thing in the face of adversity.

Today, our country faces social and political forces that, if left unchecked, have the potential to break down our force. It is therefore incumbent upon us, the individual components, to maintain not only our personal integrity but also the structural integrity required to remain whole and execute our mission. This may require upgrades and improvements, preventative maintenance and self-reflection. At the very least, it will require us to support one another in the face of adversity and to keep our military structure strong and reliable for years to come.